Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B+
Director:  Kenneth Lonergan
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 10/13/16
Opens: November 18, 2016

Grand opera and soap opera both thrive on melodrama, but you don’t go to grand opera for the sometimes absurd, melodramatic plots, and you don’t consider soap opera anything but a contrived, artificial look at life.  Nuance is the key to a solid story. When a tale can be looked on as authentic, as reflecting real life, there’s nothing wrong with melodrama.  Such is the case for Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” filmed in part in that Massachusetts village, the rest in other locations in that state including Beverly, Gloucester, Lynn and Salem.  These towns are frequented by tourists during the warm seasons.  But Lonergan is more interested in the sorts of people who live there all year and discovers that they do indeed have the accent of that New England region, dropped the “r” sound as in “Pack your cah in the Hahvod Yahd.” Nobody in “Manchester by the Sea” is recognizably a Harvard grad, however, but the folks therein are acquainted with tragedy just as are those of us who are highly educated.

“Manchester by the Sea” is somewhat like Lonergan’s previous entry, “Margaret,” which deals with a young woman’s witnessing a bus accident and viewing the aftermath, considering whether the tragedy was really an accident.  Like “The Sweet Hereafter,” which is Atom Egoyan’s look at a bus crash and its effects of a lawyer’s view on a town, “Manchester by the Sea” studies a tragedy which bears mainly on an extended family.  The particular misfortune comes out about a third of the way into the film, a movie which herky-jerky scatters scenes from the past with those of the present, and which exhibits a cataclysm which should not be revealed in a review.  The deadly action affects, among others, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and Patrick Chandler (Lucas Hedges), the sixteen-year-old for whom he takes custody after the death of the teenager’s father Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler).  The writer-director’s aim is to show that both Lee and his nephew Patrick become healed during their time together, suggesting that we often need others particularly those who share serious misfortune, to get back to normal living.

Because of his role in the disaster, Lee Chandler has become taciturn, frequently fighting in bars for little apparent reason, and going through the beginning of middle age as a janitor-handyman in Boston.  Among the humorous incidents brought in by Lonergan in the early scenes are Lee’s relationships with at least one irritating person (he tells her off), though he also is the object of one-sided conversations from tenants for whom he does simply plumbing.  When he discovers that his newly departed uncle wants him to be young Patrick’s guardian, he reluctantly takes on the job, discovering that the sixteen-year-old is horny to nobody’s surprise and has two girlfriends.  He also takes up with his separated wife Randi (Michelle Williams), who had apparently driven him away because of Lee’s role in the tragedy.

Lonergan employs background music from the classical to the blues while exhibiting the New England area as freezing, covered with snow, and enveloped by gray skies.  It might be tempting to bring out the sun when a “cure” is effected, a cure credibly brought on through the conversations of the excellent ensemble led by Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and especially Casey Affleck in his best performance since “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

Unrated.  137 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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